Todd & A Series On CI (Part 15) – Obstacles To Making Input Comprehensible In A Foreign Language Classroom

It happens to all of us:

  • The kids don’t try. Students are always saying, “Teacher, I don’t get it. I don’t know what that means!”
  • The kids don’t pay attention. We work so hard to prepare a high-quality lesson and it seems wasted because some of the kids aren’t even motivated enough to pay attention.
  • Some kids aren’t the brightest crayons in the box. We make the answer as obvious as possible and the students still look at us confused.

Research and workshops CAN BE helpful, but when you try to implement those proven techniques in a classroom full of 24 students (all of whom have their own problems) it’s not so easy to get the results you hoped for.

What goes wrong? What are the obstacles that teachers have to overcome if they’d like to use the target language over 90% of the time? Although the following list won’t be comprehensive, here are some common obstacles that can keep a teacher from reaching their TL use goals.

Problem #1 – The student says, “I don’t get it! I don’t know what that means!” (i.e. Students keep saying they don’t understand even though teacher is using visual aids and gestures to help students find meaning. Teacher works hard to find good visuals. Teacher works hard to speak L2 slowly. Students still don’t get it.)

Examples from class:

  1. Teacher says the L2 word for “to play” and shows a picture of kids playing in order to help students find meaning. Teacher later finds out that the students misinterpreted his picture. They thought he was trying to teach them the L2 word for, “sports!”
  2. Teacher says the L2 word for “with” and shows a picture of a big, bold, red plus sign. Teacher later finds out that the students thought he was teaching them the L2 word for “doctor” or “hospital.”
  3. Teacher stands, points out the window and says the following L2 sentence, “It’s a nice day out today, isn’t it?” Students give her a blank stare and don’t respond to the question at all.

The problem is in the *PAIRING. The *PAIR is not exact or is not matched properly. (Click here for more details.)

Don’t give up! When these things happen, some teachers conclude that students just aren’t ready for L2 immersion. Teachers conclude that they should stay in the target language with level 2 students but not with level 1 students. There are things you can do to pair more effectively. (Stay tuned for tips in next week’s post.)

Problem #2 – “The blank stare” from your students. Maybe your *PAIR is effective and matched properly, however sometime’s there still is a blank stare.

Examples from class:

  1. Recently I was SURE a student would be able to respond when I said, “Stand up,” (in the target language) especially because I even used my hands to motion for him to stand. I thought I was making it as simple as possible.  One short command.  One very obvious gesture.However, he gave me a blank stare.  NO RESPONSE. I thought to myself, “How much more obvious can I make it?”

The problem is that there are multiple forms of input (which are coming at the learner) and one of those forms of input is too overwhelming. It’s so overwhelming that it’s limiting the learner’s ability to process any of the other forms of input. (Click here for more details.)

Don’t give up! When this happens, you don’t have to revert to L1. Try communicating (for a while) with fewer words or even NO WORDS. It will help the student grow accustomed to paying attention to the extralinguistic input that you’re offering him. (Check out these examples.)

Problem #3 – The most obvious problem: some students just don’t pay attention. They lack motivation.

Examples from class:

Maybe the students are…

  • …not the studious type and are too bored by school work.
  • …worried about a boy that they like.
  • …thinking about the science test they have next period.
  • …upset about something that’s happening at home.
  • …angry that a friend intentionally ignored them in the hallway before class.

These problems are huge BECAUSE *pairing can’t happen if the students aren’t watching or focused on each instance of *pairing.

It’s an unfortunate reality that we have to deal with. It’s unfortunate that we not only have to do OUR job of TEACHING but ALSO have to bend over backwards motivating students to do THEIR JOB of LEARNING.

Don’t give up! All the things you do to motivate your students are very worthwhile! (Don’t forget the starfish story! “It makes a difference to that one!”)

If you find yourself particularly overwhelmed with unmotivated students, check out next week’s blog post, on Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language. Maybe you’ll find one or two things that you might be able to use in your classroom. (If you can’t wait for a week, you can check out this post or this post in the meantime.)

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd


*Disclaimer: This term is my own and I’m using it for the purpose of reflecting on my own foreign language teaching practice.  The reader should not assume that this is the term found in formal, academic writing.


See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Share your target language teaching experiences!

Have the contents of this blog ever impacted your teaching or philosophy of teaching?Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).

ClassDojo.com & Teaching In The Target Language

A language teacher from Pennsylvania recently asked me a question about using ClassDojo.com.

classdojo staying in the target language

Although I don’t imagine that it would be an effective resource in every setting (or with every age group), it is a HUGE part of what I do with my students.  (It’s so huge that I was pulling out my hair trying to keep student’s on task for an hour last year when our district servers went down and I couldn’t access the website!  hahaha!)

Here are some reasons why it works so well in my “90+% target language use” classroom.

1- The sound effects give my students comprehensible feedback regarding their behavior.

If you’re familiar with the website, you know that each student is assigned an avatar/cartoon/monster/character.

classdojo senorhoward

Each student’s avatar gains and loses points based on their behavior.  Teachers can elect to have a sound effect accompany the gain or loss of any point.  Those sound effects are key for me because my novice students won’t understand my L2 corrective phrases and sentences.  However, when they hear a “BOOM” (and see that their avatar has lost a point) they immediately get the idea that their behavior is off-task and won’t be accepted in my classroom.  9 times out of 10 I can redirect off task behavior at the click of a button; without needing to say a word.

Furthermore, I like the sound of the positive sound effect: “DING.”  Whenever a student gets a point, the “ding” makes them feel proud and motivates my young learners to want to do well.

2- The students and I love using L2 to discuss points accumulation and numbers identification.

Sometimes, when there’s a few minutes to kill at the end of class, I’ll randomly choose a student and they will have to say all of the L2 numbers that I point to on the ClassDojo homescreen.  I love doing this because my youngest students are masters at counting but start stumbling when I ask them to say a random number that I point to.

Often we will also talk about which student has the most points.  We talk about it so much that even my 2nd graders can ask and answer complete L2 sentences like, “How many points does Roger have?” and “Who has the most points?”

Whenever I see a student get excited about earning a point, I take the opportunity to use the Two-Hand Method to teach them to say, “Look Sr. Howard! I have 8 points!”

3- My end of the month ClassDojo.com routine.

The student that accumulates the most ClassDojo points in any given month receives a prize.  Then we reset the points to zero and start the new month fresh.

At this point I like to practice the L2 months in a meaningful way.  I say something in the target language like, “we have to say goodbye to all the points because we are saying goodbye to _______ (i.e. August, December).”  Then I have the students say, “Goodbye points,” and I reset the point bubbles.  Then I sing a “goodbye to the month” song.  Then we say goodbye to all the months that have passed in the school year so far.  By the end of the year students know all of the months without ever having to complete a formal thematic unit on the months of the year.

4- It helps me keep the students’ attention.

It doesn’t take long for novice students to disengage when they hear incomprehensible L2.  This is a very important point because, if a novice student isn’t watching the source of instruction, there’s ALMOST NO WAY that L2 will be acquired. (Since *pairing will not be occurring.)  With this in mind, a teacher needs to do everything he can in order to maintain the attention of his students.  ClassDojo.com helps me toward this end.  The sounds are attractive (at least to young students).  The avatars are attractive.  The idea that a student has their name up on the screen (and that they’ve chosen their avatar) is attractive.  It encourages them to watch what’s happening at the front of the classroom.

5- I can use it throughout the class period.

Some teachers ask me, “So do you just enter the ClassDojo data at the end of each class period?”  And I say, “No.  I enter the information throughout every portion of the class.”

I can enter the data onto any mobile device. (Just download the free app)  This is handy if I’m showing the students a video clip.  I can have the class list open on the ClassDojo app and be giving students points for paying attention or using the target language while their watching the video.  It’s also handy if the students are walking around the room doing some kind of interpersonal mode activity.  I can circulate throughout the room and record ClassDojo data on my mobile device.

I can quickly switch between windows/screens using the computer keyboard, wireless mouse or SMARTboard screen.  Let’s say we’re doing an activity using power point and a student knocks my socks off with an amazing L2 answer/contribution.  I can easily switch screens and give any amount of points to communicate that I’m very pleased.  In that moment every student WANTS to make the same positive contribution because they see how richly I rewarded the exemplary behavior.

6- I can use the ClassDojo reports.

  • I can print an individual student’s behavior report and send it home.
  • I can invite parents to sign up to receive live behavior updates.  I can also send messages to parents through the website without compromising my personal contact information.
  • I can run whole class reports and use them to award prizes at the end of the year.
  • I can run student reports at the end of each marking period and use them as a performance assessment.
  • I can have an objective count of how many points a student has lost and assign detentions accordingly
  • etc.

How to make ClassDojo.com more attractive to older students:

You may want to avoid using ClassDojo with older students to avoid making them feel childish.  But there are some things you could do to use this free resource and still make it age appropriate.

  1. Have every student be the same avatar.  I’ve done this before.  I choose a Critter Option instead of an Avatar Option.  I make it look really neutral.  Then the students don’t feel singled out…and it looks less like a childish cartoon.
  2. Don’t display the home screen in front of the students as much.  Keep it more private.  Enter data on a mobile device.  Show individual students the data as part of a teacher-student conference to discuss progress/performance.
  3. Turn off the sound effects in the settings menu.

 

Click here to read an older post on how I use ClassDojo to increase student motivation.


*Disclaimer: This term is my own and I’m using it for the purpose of reflecting on my own foreign language teaching practice.  The reader should not assume that this is a term found in formal, academic writing.

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com@calhwrd

See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Share your target language teaching experiences!

Have the contents of this blog ever impacted your teaching or philosophy of teaching?Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).

The First Week Of Trying To Stay In The TL With Your Students

Need ideas for what to do on the first days of staying in the target language with your students?

1- Motivational Speech

Help the students know WHY you are staying in the target language.  Here’s what I tell my students.

2- Motivational Structure

Hearing ONLY L2 takes patience and determination on the part of the learners.  Give them some incentive to stick with it.  Here’s the incentive that I offer my students.

3- Catch Students Off Guard

How would your students react if the first lesson you taught had NO WORDS?  What if you didn’t say anything at all?  No L1 AND no L2.  I might start out by saying something like:

“We’re gonna kick L1 out the door.  We’re not gonna use L1.  See ya later L1.  Bye-bye!

 

But some of you might think, “I don’t understand L2.  I won’t know what to do!”  Well you’re right.  But I don’t expect you to know what to do when you hear L2…yet.  You will later.  To start, I’ll help you know what to do by communicating without language.

 

It’s sort of fun.  Watch.  First let’s start by spending 5 minutes DOING nothing and SAYING nothing.  Your job, during that time, is to get used to the silence and to watch me.  Silence is okay.  And watching me is so important that I’ll say it again: WATCH ME!  Remember… first 5 minutes quiet…then watch me.  And my guess is, even though I won’t speak any language, you’ll still know what to do.”

After the 5 minutes of silence:

  • Stand up.
  • Walk towards the students.
  • Point to a student and motion for them to stand.  (After they stand up, hand them their pencil/notebook/bag or whatever they brought with them to class.)
  • Motion for the student to follow you with their things.
  • Motion for the student to stand in the spot you point to off to the side.  (I don’t suggest asking the student to stand up in front because they might feel too “on stage.”  Off to the side will feel more comfortable.)
  • Motion for the student to stay there.
  • Smile and give them a thumbs up to help them know they are doing the right thing.
  • Walk towards the other students.
  • Point to a second student and motion for them to stand.
  • Motion for the second student to follow you and point for them to stand next to student #1.
  • Repeat these steps until the whole class is standing up in a line at the side of the room with their things.
  • Using the same types of motions/gestures/pointing, seat the students (one at a time) at new desks.
  • When the whole class is seated again, in their new seats, smile with a sense of satisfaction.  Let them read on your face that you feel that you accomplished your task.  You did it all without using language.  Give them a thumbs up.  Give them a quiet acknowledging applause just like a soccer player would do to the home team fans at the end of a soccer game.
  • If the students are responding well…continue the silence.  Motion for them to wait.  Motion for them to stay quiet.  Maybe show them that you’re looking at the clock and that you want them to stay quiet for 5 more minutes.  If they are really into it, you can even motion for them to sit at their desks with their hands folded.  If they all respond well, give them a thumbs up so that they know you’re proud of them for responding to your non-verbal cues.

4- Debrief With The Students

Start speaking L1 again.  Tell them, “Wow!  You just spent 15 minutes doing exactly what I asked…but I didn’t even use any L1!  How did you do it?”  Let them raise their hands and offer answers as to how they understood what you expected.  Help them realize that people can receive and respond to many different forms of input.  Usually we all think that we only respond to linguistic input.  But there’s SO MUCH MORE!  Explain to them that there’s:

5- Tell Them About *Pairing

Tell them that if they watch you they’ll know what to do.  Tell them that you’ll start sprinkling in bits of L2.  Explain how you will *pair incomprehensible L2 with comprehensible and meaningful extralinguistic input.  Tell them that if they watch you, that they’ll have opportunities to start seeing what hundreds of L2 words and phrases mean just because of your *pairing technique.

6- Start The Week With Some Fun Easy Lessons…

…to get them used to what it’s like to follow you even though you only use L2 words (plus lots of extralinguistic cues!)  Here are links to some lesson ideas, which include a script of what you can do and say:

Teaching Grammar While Staying In The Target Language.

Introducing New Vocabulary While Staying In The Target Language.

Giving Activity Directions While Staying In The Target Language.

7- Have Fun And Be Creative

You know your students.  You have creative ideas.  Never feel limited to what you read on this blog.  I share the ideas that I use NOT to suggest that it’s the only way to do it.  They should be a launching pad for you.  Use the ideas you like and build upon the ideas that you can make better!

 


*Disclaimer: These terms are my own and I’m using them for the purpose of reflecting on my own foreign language teaching practice.  The reader should not assume that these are the terms found in formal, academic writing.

 See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

Your voice is valuable! Share your target language teaching experiences!

Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).

Links To Posts From Year 1: Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language

staying in the target language tips

It’s been a year since Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language was created.

A compilation of links to many of the posts from YEAR 1 can be found organized by topic below in part one of this anniversary post.

Part 2, of this post, contains a statement on how and how not to read this blog.  Find a modified version of this post under a new page called “1st Time Visitor??”


1- Managing Student Behavior AND Staying In The Target Language

2- Helping Reluctant Learners

3- Practical Advice/Strategies For…:

…Teaching Grammar While Staying In The Target Language.

…Introducing New Vocabulary While Staying In The Target Language.

…Making The Interpersonal Mode As Easy As Possible.

Giving Activity Directions While Staying In The Target Language.

4- Assessments

5- Comprehensible Input & Input Theory Made Practical

Todd (The Stick Figure) And A Series On “CI”

6- Why Teach In The Target Language?

Why I Switched (My Switching To “90+% TL Use” Story)


How To Read This Blog

This blog is meant to be PRACTICAL, PRACTICAL, PRACTICAL.

In 2012, when I wanted to use more of the target language with my students, I searched to find practical answers to tough questions like:

  • How do I effectively manage student behavior AND stay in the target language?
  • How am I supposed to introduce new vocabulary AND stay in the target language?
  • What do I do when students give up and say things like, “I don’t understand a word of what you’re saying!”
  • How do I give directions for activities AND stay in the target language?

I feel like I never got PRACTICAL answers.

People would try to give me answers, but the answers I got seemed nebulous.  It’s because of this that I try to be as practical as possible when I write for this blog.  I try to avoid speaking in generalities.  I try to avoid giving “teaching in the TL advice” without sharing exactly what I do to make “teaching in the TL” possible with my students.

I try to be as practical as possible so that my blog readers think, “Wow.  Finally.  Finally I’m getting some details.  Finally I’m getting to hear exactly how someone is doing this teaching-in-the-TL-thing with their students.”  “Ooooooh…I see.  Teaching in the target language IS possible and the practical examples/strategies shared on this blog give me ONE way for how this can be done.”

(Side Note: Remember, the ideas/examples/strategies/methods/videos that I share are meant to make this blog practical.  I DON’T share my ideas as a way of suggesting that these are the ONLY ways to teach in the target language.  As I wrote in one of my “Teaching Grammar” posts:

“Don’t feel limited to what is written (in these posts).  Let these simple ideas launch you into developing more creative, more thoughtful, and more effective ideas (that you can use in your own classroom).”

I liked what Sara-E. Cottrell (from Musicuentos.com) said on twitter the other day, “(The) Biggest advice I can give you & anyone exploring TCI: 1) know & be yourself 2) learn & love your students.”  What I got out of that tweet was, “Don’t limit yourself to what others do or have done.  Do what works for you and your students.  From the things that other people in your profession share, formulate your own ideas and strategies that work well in the distinct environment where you practice.”


I love to answer questions and hear your feedback.

Some of my favorite posts started with questions that blog readers have asked.  Don’t hesitate to contact me with questions about staying in the target language.

Share your target language teaching experiences!

Have the contents of this blog ever impacted your teaching or philosophy of teaching?  Have you developed effective strategies for staying in the target language with your students?  Leave comments and add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).


What Others Are Saying About “Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language”

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com@calhwrd

“My Students Don’t Feel Comfortable When I Spend Long Amounts Of Time Teaching In The Target Language.”

 “My students don’t feel comfortable when I spend extended amounts of time teaching in the target language.”

“My students complain when I stay in the target language.  They say, “Miss…I don’t speak Spanish!” or “What she sayin’!?” or “I didn’t understand a word you just said!”

“Staying in the target language may be a good instructional goal to shoot for, but it just wouldn’t work for my students.”

Along these lines, a reader made some insightful comments after reading last week’s blog post:

I think many HS students walk into a WL class “expecting” those L1 -> L2 connections to be made.  Many of them think they can’t function unless they “know” what those words mean in L1, and they dislike having that knowledge gap created.  It’s difficult for many of them to “trust” in the L2.  Lots of L1 interference comes into play here.  (I’m not commenting on whether these things are good or bad pedagogically — those are just my observations of student reactions).

If a foreign language teacher approached me for advice pertaining to situations like these I would say:

1-  My students, as well, experienced levels of discomfort when I switched into staying in the target language.  (Read my story of transitioning into 90+% TL use.)

When I asked students to participate, they would often say things like, “But Sr. Howard, I don’t understand Spanish!”  I guess their conclusion was that they were in the wrong place.   It was as if they felt like they boarded the wrong flight.  “I must be in the wrong place because this feels like a place for people who speak Spanish.  …and I DON’T!”  They assumed that my “Speaking Only Spanish” class wasn’t for them because they didn’t speak Spanish.

2-  Expect the transition into 90+% target language use to include a level of discomfort.

It’s normal for individuals to feel uncomfortable (especially at first) in an L2 immersion environment.  Explain to your students that it is okay if they feel uncomfortable.  Explain that it’s normal to feel confused or overwhelmed when someone starts talking with sounds they’ve never heard before.

3-  Give students a reason (or motivation) to “stick with it” even though it’s uncomfortable at first.

Click here to read a list of what I did to increase student motivation to “stick with it”.

Read this post for what I believe is the most important reason to “stick with it”.

4-  Give students tools/strategies to make sense of their new L2 world.

There are times when a class of mine might need a refresher on what tools and strategies to use in order to make sense of the language they’re hearing.  Whenever this happens, I pause instruction in the target language to tell my students, in English, things like:

  • “Don’t expect to understand 100% of what I say with my mouth.  Your goal isn’t to understand everything.  I don’t expect you to understand everything.”
  • “You can’t understand what I’m saying by just listening.”
  • “You have to WATCH, WATCH, WATCH!”
  • “You might think, ‘Sr. Howard, why do you make us be so quiet while you are teaching?  It’s so quiet you could hear a pin drop!’  Boys and girls, I ask you to be so quiet because the only way you will learn Spanish in my class is if you are watching what I’m doing or showing you.  If you are talking to a friend, or if your whisper makes someone stop looking at me, NO SPANISH LEARNING will be happening.  And you have a job to do when you are in this room.  Your job is to learn Spanish.  And to learn Spanish, I make it very easy.  All you have to do is WATCH.
  • “I never get mad at a student for trying.  I never get mad at a student for making a mistake.”
  • “I do get very mad at a student for making fun of someone else who makes a mistake.  I also get mad at a student if she keeps another student from WATCHING the source of instruction.”
  • “In this class, mistakes are good.  In this class I will say, “Hooray!” when you make a mistake because it means that you tried!”
  • “You’ll notice that I do some of the same things over and over again.  Those are the important things to pay attention to.  Also, notice what I write under the word, “IMPORTANTE” on the board.  Those are the important things to pay attention to.”
  • “You’ll never understand if you don’t WATCH what I’m doing or what I’m showing.”
  • “Spanish class is like TV:  All you have to do is watch.”

It’s important to give your students tools for making sense of their new L2 world because they can no longer rely on their ability to understand what’s being spoken.

5-  When you stay in the target language, your students will stay uncomfortable IF you haven’t made a philosophical distinction between an ‘L2 immersion environment’ and a ‘COMPREHENSIBLE L2 immersion environment.’

It’s one thing to be in an L2 immersion environment and have no idea what’s being said.  (i.e. Example #1: Listening-in on a telephone conversation between two native speakers of a language you’ve never heard before)  It’s another thing to be in an L2 immersion environment (or situation) where you can understand completely what’s being said, even though you’ve never heard the language.  (i.e. Example #2: Someone just indulged in their first bite of a chocolate dessert and closes their eyes before slowly saying something to the effect of, “Delicious,” in the target language.)

In your 90+% target language environment, try to avoid facilitating an immersion experience like example #1 from above.  Instead, try to facilitate situation after situation after situation of examples like example #2 from above.

Remember to keep in mind this general rule:

Hearing a foreign language ALONE will not allow a person to acquire a foreign language.

6-  Stick with it.  Students will gradually become less uncomfortable.

Many transitions in life are uncomfortable at first.  When you start a new exercise routine, it can be painful at first.  When you start setting your alarm to wake up early after a long vacation, the first couple mornings can be very difficult.  A first year teacher is in for quite a long year as she transitions into a new teaching job.

If you give up quickly, you’ll never be able to notice that, eventually, it does get easier.  Tell yourself and your students that it won’t always be as hard as it is during the first couple weeks.  Stick with it and it does become easier.

The majority of my students have not only moved past experiencing discomfort in a comprehensible L2 immersion environment, many of them actually love it!  Some of them even forget that they’re actually learning L2.

A few minutes ago (as I am writing this post) one of my students just walked into my classroom with his mom.  We chatted for a while before it was time for them to leave.  When his mom said it was time to go, he said, “I wish that I could just stay here and live with Señor Howard.”  I asked another dad if his son told him what we did last time in Spanish class.  His Dad rolled his eyes and said, “Yes, he told me like 200 times.”  One mom said, “We’ve moved a lot, and we’ve never had a language class experience like my son is having now with you.  He is learning so much.”

An Italian teacher from Australia just tweeted me the other day and said:

“Gotta tell you that you inspired me! Am now running Year 8 and 9 classes in 100% Italian except for the last 3-5 mins! Thanks!  …and not only that, but have managed to inspire the other 7 people in my faculty! Xlnt results,kids focused,& enjoying it!:)”

7-  More about experience than language study.

If you still find your students feeling uncomfortable or uninspired, long after you’ve made the transition into staying in the target language, consider doing things to help the students focus less on language learning and focus more on whatever experience they are having in the target language.

For an example of this, read the posts on teaching grammar while staying in the target language.  You’ll notice from the scripts that a participating student could easily forget he’s learning language because the activity (eating cereal and/or wondering who’s going to get to eat the cereal) is so engaging.  If your activities/experiences are worthwhile and meaningful, it could be that the students begin to acquire L2 without even realizing it.

More posts to help you get started:

Rules of thumb to keep in mind:

  1. If something you are about to say in the target language isn’t going to be comprehensible, it’s not worth saying.
  2. Use less words.
  3. Set a goal that your students will not think, “I have no idea what my L2 teacher is saying.”
  4. It’s not unrealistic to set a high goal for how much of the input will be comprehensible for the students.
  5. Even though you are speaking a language that is foreign to them, you should strive to make sure that at least 80% of the input is comprehensible.  They may not understand every word.  …but that’s okay.  If you shoot for input being comprehensible 80% of the time it won’t matter as much to your students that they don’t understand every word.  The will still be able to decipher.
  6. It’s hard work for students to decipher the input that you are trying to make comprehensible.  Give them frequent deciphering breaks.

Keep the conversation going!

Have you tried out any of these teaching suggestions from Tuesday’s Tips for Staying in the Target Language?  How did it go?  Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #langchat (for general language teaching comments) and/or #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments).

 See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

Your voice is valuable! Share your target language teaching experiences!

The Benefits of Insulting Students In The Target Language

Warning: don’t try this staying-in-the-target-language strategy if you struggle with behavior management in the classroom.

This year I’ve been developing a very fun, very silly and very effective instructional strategy to teach the following L2 components while staying in the target language:

  • subject pronouns
  • irregular verb conjugations
  • ‘to be’ verbs
  • making something negative (i.e. “I am,” vs. “I am not.”)

It all started when I began calling myself Superman in front of the students.

I learned to use INSULTS to help students learn difficult aspects of a foreign language.

I learned to use INSULTS to help students learn difficult aspects of a foreign language.

Whenever I had to move a heavy desk, or pick up a chair, or when I balanced a yard stick on my hand, I would always follow with, “I am Superman,” in the target language.  They would laugh at me and I could immediately tell, by the look on their faces, that they wanted to tell me that I wasn’t Superman.  They wished that they knew how to say, “Señor Howard…you ARE NOT Superman,” in the target language.  In order to help them learn how, I used the “Two-Hand Method.”

The students learned and they loved it!  They loved insulting me!

The next time I said, “I am Superman,” almost the entire class said, “You ARE NOT Superman,” in unison.  I put an offended look on my face.  I pretended that I was insulted because they said that I wasn’t Superman.  I put my hand on my hip.  I shook a finger in their face.  When they laughed, I continued pretending to be offended.  Then, while still looking offended, I paused.  And when the moment was perfect (while everyone was watching quietly with a huge amount of curiousity as to how I was going to proceed) I emphatically repeated, “Yes I AM Superman.”  The students would immediately laugh and keep telling me, “You ARE NOT Superman!” all in the target language.

Just in case there were a few students who were lost, I wrote the target phrases on the board like this:

“I am Superman” | “Yes I’m Superman”

“You are NOT Superman” | “No you’re not Superman”

Some of the students felt strange to be insulting their foreign language teacher.  So in order to help them know that I was really proud of them for using the target language in this way, and in order to motivate them to continue this behavior, I gave them lots of points on classdojo.com.  (See my classdojo post here and Sra. Spanglish’s post here for using classdojo for motivating foreign language students to stay in the target language.)

Using this strategy, I was able to indirectly teach students some subject pronouns, some verb conjugations, how to make something negative, etc.  By writing it on the board I was giving them some L2 literacy skills.  And we were all having a blast!

When they had enough practice insulting me, I settled things down by giving them points on classdojo and then moving on with what I had been teaching.  Now I repeat this activity at random times throughout my lessons, whenever I do something impressive (i.e. lifting a chair or balancing something or modeling the target language).

I’ve taken this idea a step further by starting to insult my students.  In order to make the insults friendly and fun, I use the names of popular cartoon characters from TV or from movies.  I might look at a 4th grade boy and say (in the target language), “You are Dora,” or you are, “Princess Ana/Queen Elsa.”

Insutling students (in a thoughtful way) can help them learn tough L2 skills without even trying!

Insutling students (by calling them cartoon character names, in a thoughtful way) can help them learn tough L2 skills without even realizing it!

All the students laugh and don’t even realize they are learning “to be” verb conjugations and subject pronouns.

In order to keep the student from being embarrassed, I prompt the boy to insult me back.  He might respond with, “You are Barney,” or, “You are Doc McStuffins.”  I’m careful to always let the student win the insult battle, so that he doesn’t feel embarrassed.  I also make sure that the experience is rewarding (and not threatening) by giving him classdojo points or rewards after participating.  When fellow students see that there is great reward in insulting their language teacher, they start calling out insults in the target language.  It’s fun!  And students learn so much!

Students will learn advanced L2 skills without even trying if the experience is meaningful, fun, 100% in the target language, and contextualized.

Have you had any success using this strategy or strategies like it?  Share your stories and comments below.

 See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

Your voice is valuable! Share your target language teaching experiences!

Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).

Management Strategies for the 90+% TL Classroom – Ensure That You Are Pairing (Part 3)

If you’re concerned about how to manage student behavior in the 90+% TL classroom, there’s one thing that you MUST get right: PAIRING incomprehensible L2 input with compelling and comprehensible extralinguistic input.

Here are the key tips for PAIRING that we’ve discussed so far:

  1. Use Fewer Words – Don’t use unnecessary L2 words.
  2. Keep Students Attention and Increase Student Motivation– Students have to be watching the source of instruction (output).
  3. Only Short ‘Deciphering Periods’ – The topic of today’s post.

It’s important to realize that most students can’t sustain on-task behavior, in an immersion setting, for extended amounts of time.  Being in an L2 environment can be stressful, confusing and discouraging.  Only highly motivated language learners can sustain an effort to interpert their foreign surroundings for extended amounts of time.  So it’s important to…

…have ‘deciphering periods’ that last only 3-5 minutes.

What do I mean by ‘deciphering periods’?  It’s the time a student is bravely trying to figure out what is happening when they’re being exposed to new content.  During deciphering periods…:

  • …a teacher is introducing new content.
  • …students are unfamiliar with content.
  • …the meaning of content is uncertain. (since it’s being introduced in L2 immersion setting)
  • …students may tend to feel more stress. (because of the uncertainty and unfamiliarity)
  • …the probability of students giving up, and disengaging from the source of instruction, increases.

Because students are vulnerable during deciphering periods, it’s important to keep those times short.  After a student has invested energy into figuring out (or decifering) target vocabulary, follow up with a low-stress activity.  Low-stress activities can include:

  • Watching engaging video clips in the TL. (Spanish examples) (French examples)  (It’s helpful to choose video clips that reteach, or model, the content you’ve just finished introducing.)
  • Participating in review activities or tasks, which have been explained and mastered in the past.
  • Doing some kind of individual seat work.  Ensure that the task is simple and that student success is anticipated.

If you pattern the flow of your class time with plenty of SHORT ‘deciphering periods’ broken up by low-stress (non-threatening) activities, students will stay more engaged in an L2 immersion environment.

 See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

Your voice is valuable! Share your target language teaching experiences!

Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).

Management Strategies for the 90+% TL Classroom – Increase Student Motivation

When switching to 90+% TL use, the first question I decided to address was…:

…how can I make students want to actively participate in a L2 environment that is initially uncomfortable, intimidating and confusing?

I initially did three things to increase student willingness to stay engaged in an L2 environment.

1-  I told students that it can be more exciting to learn a foreign language when the instructor stays in the TL. (keep in mind that the instructor has to be excellent at pairing incomprehensible L2 input with compelling extralinguistic input.)  I told students to imagine the way they learned L1.  Their parents didn’t sit them down, as 1-year-olds, and give them vocabulary lists or explain complex grammar structures.  Infants acquire language naturally through being immersed in their native language.  I told students that I wanted them to experience the beauty of foreign language acquisition through immersion.

2-  I set up a LONG TERM system for rewarding students.  We recorded how long we could stay in the TL.  The class with the most minutes at the end of the year wins.  Here’s how I did it:

  • I found a good timer/stopwatch (download one or use the one on ClassDojo)
  • Timer was ON when I was in the TL. (Students loved watching the timer go up!)
  • Timer was OFF when I had to switch into L1.
  • Record total minutes in the target language at the end of each class.  (I used Google Sheets to record.  See Kinder example.  See 5th grade example.  Note: Use tabs at the bottom to switch between sheets.  See how to set up online record sheet.)
  • Class/section that has the most minutes at the end of the year wins a party/award.
  • Timer keeps going even if students need to switch to L1.  Teacher must stay in TL.

3- I set up a SHORT TERM system for rewarding students.  I used a free and popular behavior management software product.  www.ClassDojo.com .  Here’s what I liked about it:

  • Sound effects give immediate and comprehensible feedback to students regarding their behavior.
  • Students can choose/customize their avatars. (Make a lesson out of it by teaching/practicing expressing preferences.)
  • Student ‘behavior points’ are tallied next to their avatar.  (Use this feature for practicing numbers identification in the TL.)
  • Parents can receive daily reports on student progress with details.  (You can also text parents through the ClassDojo webpage.)
  • A Mobile App is available.  This allows you to use the software in front of the class or privately on the side.
  • Settings can be modified to make the system appropriate for different age groups.
  • More on ClassDojo to come in future blog posts.

Making these three adjustments has worked for me.  It’s fun!  Students who once struggled are now thriving.  Students use vocabulary that isn’t even part of our performance objectives.  Students are more motivated.  I feel like I have to focus less on entertaining and keeping their attention.  Teaching in the TL has made me love my job even more.

I like to talk with others about the changes I’ve made in my classroom.  Feel free to make comments or ask question in the section below.  You can also email me or follow me on twitter to ask questions.  Stay tuned to this blog for more posts on management strategies for the 90+% TL classroom, including videos of me using these strategies with students.

See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

Your voice is valuable! Share your target language teaching experiences!

Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).

Management Strategies for the 90+% TL Classroom – Introduction

It’s not easy to teach a foreign language by staying in the TL.  Neither is managing off-task behavior.  When I considered following ACTFL’s recommendation, to stay in the TL at least 90% of the time, my biggest question was: “How do I effectively manage the classroom and keep students engaged?”

Without practical strategies for managing off-task behavior in an L2 setting, I felt like staying in the TL would never happen for me.  I needed to know…

  • …how to avoid students saying: “Sr. Howard, I don’t understand a word you’re saying!”
  • …how to avoid a disrespectful response after I reprimanded an off-task student in the target language. (i.e. ‘WHAT!?  WHAT ARE YOU EVEN SAYING!?’)
  • …how to motivate classes to stay engaged even though they didn’t understand every word I was saying.
  • …how to encourage on-task behavior without making the learner feel intimidated (as a result of the compliment being in a language they didn’t understand.)
  • …how to handle heritage speakers wanting to interupt instruction with direct translations of what I was saying.

After I attended ACTFL 2012, I took time to develop a new classroom management plan that would work for my students and me.  The plan worked!

Starting today, and over the next several weeks, I’ll share those practical ideas and strategies.  Remember: for students to acquire L2, while listening to only L2, the input needs to be comprehensible.  AND…For the input to be comprehensible the students need to be watching a contextualized source of instruction.  So classroom management is a HUGE deal.  Take it seriously.  Feel free to use any of these ideas (or adapt them) for use in your classroom.

What questions do you have about how to manage student behavior while staying in the target language?  Leave comments and questions below.

More posts on this topic:

Management Strategies – Increase Student Motivation

Management Strategies – Ensure That Input Is Comprehensible (Part 1)

Management Strategies – Ensure That Input Is Comprehensible (Part 2)

Management Strategies – Ensure That Input Is Comprehensible (Part 3)

See what others are saying about Tuesday’s Tips For Staying In The Target Language.

Señor Howard

Señor Howard – www.SenorHoward.com/blog – @HolaSrHoward

Caleb Howard – www.SoMuchHope.com – @calhwrd

Your voice is valuable! Share your target language teaching experiences!

Leave comments below or add to the conversation on twitter by using #TL90plus (for staying in the target language” comments) and/or #langchat (for general language teaching comments).